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Lifejackets and PFDs
Safety Equipment Definitions

Personal Life-saving Equipment

Life Jackets, Personal Flotation Devices

Most people who die while boating, drown and most people who drown in boating incidents are not wearing a lifejacket… between 80 and 90 per cent.  So while it’s all well and good to have a lifejacket in the boat, it’s something else to find one and put it on in the split seconds before an accident, or to grab one as you are suddenly falling overboard, or to put one on in frigid cold water.  Obviously it is much better to wear a lifejacket at all times in the boat… like a seatbelt in an automobile.   You will get used to it



They come in three colours – red, orange, yellow – to be more visible in the water.  Right now there are three Canadian-approved lifejackets that are all keyhole type but there are significant differences. 

a)    SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Lifejackets

The best performing.  They turn you on your back in seconds to keep your face out of the water, even when you are unconscious.

Two sizes: over and less than 32 kilograms (70 pounds)

b)   Standard Lifejackets

Slower performing.  They take longer to turn you on your back.

Two sizes: over and less than 40 kilograms (80 pounds)

c)    Small Vessel Lifejackets

Slowest performing.  They can take the longest time to turn you on your back.

Three sizes: over 41 kilograms (90 pounds) 18 to 41 kilograms (40 to 90 pounds) less than 18 kilograms (40 pounds)

Lifejackets should fit snugly.  If you cannot make your lifejacket fit snugly then it is too big.  Another check is to see if someone can pull the lifejacket over your head.  If that is possible, it is too big.  If you cannot put it on and fasten it securely, it is too small.  If a lifejacket is too small, it may not provide enough flotation to keep you from sinking.

Lifejackets for Children

They should have the following features:

  • A large collar to support the head
  • Waist ties or elastic gathers, front and back
  • Safety strap that goes between the legs to prevent the child from slipping out
  • Adjustable buckles on the safety straps to assure a snug fit
  • Reflective tape

They should fit snugly and not ride up over the chin or ears.  There should be less than 7.6 centimeters (3 inches) between the shoulders and the device; otherwise it is too big. 

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Approved PFDs come in a wide range of styles and colours.  Generally they are more comfortable than lifejackets but they rarely offer the same level of protection because they may not turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water or be as effective keeping you afloat. 

One very popular style – likely because they are most comfortable – are the inflatable PFDs.  In an emergency they are inflated by use of a CO2 bottle, or by blowing into an attached tube to inflate the pouch or vest.  A CO2 bottle is a much better choice because it might be extremely difficult to inflate a PFD by mouth while trying to keep your head above water. 

NOTES on Inflatable PFDs: 

  • They must be worn in an open boat to be approved.  If the boat has a cabin, you need to wear it only when on deck or in the open.
  • They are not to be worn by anyone under the age of 16 years or who weighs less than 36.3 kilograms (80 pounds).
  • They cannot be worn on PWCs or for whitewater paddling activities.
  • Lifejackets and PFDs do not have an expiry date.  However, regardless of their age, they must be in good repair, with no worn straps or patches, no holes or tears, no mold, and all the buckles, zippers and clips working and in place. 

All Lifejackets and PFDs must also have an approval label from Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, and/or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.  Lifejackets approved by the US Coast Guard are not Canadian approved.  However, visitors to Canada may bring their own lifejackets to use on pleasurecraft in Canada as long as they fit and conform to the laws of their home country. 

CARE for your Lifejackets and PFDs

  • Check buoyancy by wearing it into shallow water to see if you float.
  • Make sure straps, buckles, zippers and belt loops are clean, not worn, securely sewn and work well. 
  • Clean with mild soap and water.  (Do not dryclean)
  • Tug on the straps to make sure they are secure.
  • Dry the lifejacket in open air, away from direct heat.
  • Store in a dry, well-ventilated space, within easy reach.
  • Never sit or kneel on your lifejacket or use it as a fender. 

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